L.A. company gives e-waste and ex-inmates a second chance

Earth911

By Mary Mazzoni

Founded by social innovation and public policy guru Kabira Stokes in 2011, Isidore Electronics Recycling provides e-waste recycling services to Los Angeles residents, businesses and governmental organizations, with a hefty dose of social good.

Beyond simply disposing of e-waste responsibly, the company serves as an on-the-job training and employment program for previously incarcerated Angelenos who face barriers to employment.

“Isidore Electronics Recycling is building a world in which our resources — both human and natural — are valued, not wasted,” the company writes on its website.

So, how does the program work, and how is it changing lives in Los Angeles? Earth911 took a closer look to find out.

Second Chances and Public Safety

One of the core tenets of Isidore Electronics Recycling is second chances — for people and retired electronics.

When formerly incarcerated people are released from prison, it’s often difficult for them to find jobs — a driving factor in high recidivism rates. California is particularly hard hit, as seven out of 10 people (PDF) who leave a California correctional facility return within three years.

Likewise, the company points to the glaring reality that landfills and prisons are overflowing in the Los Angeles area. Neither an endless cycle of incarceration nor toxic e-waste in area landfills, they say, are in the best interest of public safety.

“The toxins in our landfills get into our drinking water, into our ground soil, into our lives,” the company writes on its website. “Ninety-eight percent of people who go to prison come out of prison to our communities. If we haven’t rehabilitated them, they go back to prison — often after having committed more crimes. That is not public safety.

To solve both problems, the company hires and trains ex-inmates — sourced from partner organizations such as theCoalition for Responsible Community Development (CRCD),Homeboy Industries, and various sober living and halfway houses — to dismantle old electronics and recover precious resources.

The company itself has had somewhat of a second chance. Its first warehouse in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles burned to the ground in 2012 after an electrical fire. Rather than throw in the towel, Stokes seemed to draw strength from the adversity.

“I realized how deeply I care about this,” she said after the fire in an interview with Forbes.

The company has since relocated to another warehouse and is moving forward with its goals of becoming a successful social enterprise for the triple bottom line — making money, helping people and protecting our planet.